Wednesday, July 6th, 2005 – 3:18 am.
“Danny says he can still smell Mom.”
It’s been almost two years since she told me, but I still remember the quiver in Nat’s voice. I haven’t heard it since.
“Really?” I asked. “How so?”
But I already knew. A few mornings after Sharon died I spied Danny lingering in the silence of my bedroom. Only six years old, he climbed onto my bed and scurried toward Sharon’s pillow. He hovered above the pillowcase’s cool surface, moving back and forth - sniffing where his mother once slept. At some point he froze, closed his eyes, and inhaled deeply. Then he set his head down near the source of the scent and whimpered.
Grief is only unbearable until you watch your own child mourn.
Six hundred and twenty-two days have passed since the all-knowing, ever-loving strangers in heaven stole Sharon from us. An hour doesn’t pass that I don’t think of her. On the nights I allow sleep to take hold, I curse myself in the morning if I haven’t dreamt of her. And if she visits my dreams? Well, then those dreams are of ordinary times and places in which I’ve forgotten she’s even gone. Once there were mornings when we would laugh, each with faint memories of talking to the other in our sleep. To this day, I still wake thinking she’s next to me. Sometimes it’s because one of the kids has crawled into my bed. Other times I’m not so sure. I’ll never tell Danny this, but on the nights I don’t try hard, I can smell her, too.
But not this night. This night it is only the sound of one of my children, thinking she is quiet as she makes her way to my room.
Then, the soft squeak of the bedroom door. Nat, indeed, because Danny bursts in as if the house is on fire. Nat, though, listens before saying anything. If I pretended to snore, I’d hear the unmistakable click of the closing door.
I held my breath.
Duh-dee? My twelve-year-old daughter only uses this sleepy moniker when she feels the need to regress into the little girl she once was, is still embarrassed by, and yet secretly longs to be again.
No answer. Maybe she’d forgotten how to converse. Over two weeks had passed since she initiated a conversation with me. In fact, over the past two months - a stretch of time when my introverted daughter became increasingly withdrawn from even me – I tried various approaches to open her up. None worked. So when I hear the echoes of the Nat who once loved me, my Pavlovian grey matter takes notice.
“What’s the matter, Ignats?” It was the softest voice I could muster.
For a few seconds, only more silence.
“I think I’m sick.”
Four words I’d often heard before, yet this time her voice wasn’t polluted by the frustration of a headache, the fear of vomiting, or the throbbing pain of an earache. Instead, Nat’s ‘I think I’m sick’ sounded like my ‘Kids, there’s been an accident.’ Of course, it didn’t help that I’d been thinking of my brother Jimmy so much lately. But, seriously, how sick could she be? A girl doesn’t realize in the middle of the night she has a chronic and fatal condition. You don’t wake up thinking you have leukemia or bone cancer.
“What do you mean, Honey?”
At first, more silence. Then, the strained exhaling that comes only with tears. I felt her forehead. Dry and hot - one of those fevers you feel before your hand even makes contact.
“Oh, Honey. You’re burning up.”
She continued to cry. I sat up and pulled her to me. After calming her, I took an inventory of her symptoms. A slight headache, she said, but yes, her stomach and ears were fine.
Probably a virus.
I gave her some Tylenol, and though she weighed far too much for me, I carried her back to bed knowing this closeness would be gone by sunrise.
“Don’t worry. You’ll feel better tomorrow.”
Did I know even then it wasn't true?
“Absolutely. And if you don’t, we can go see Dr. Matt. It’s not like either one of us has classes to go to, right?”
My lips lingered on her warm cheek. For now, my baby was back.